“The greatest obstacle to salvation is our unwillingness to forgive those who owe a small debt when we have already been forgiven a debt that we could not even replay even if we lived 150 million years”.
Archbishop Jason Gordon gave this teaching at Mass last Sunday, September 13, while discussing the Gospel of Matthew 18:21-35, the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. How much should people forgive? Peter asked if it was as often as seven times and Jesus responded, “seventy-seven times”. Archbishop Gordon noted scholars believe that the number is 70 x 7-490 times, which is mentioned in the Book of Daniel.
“Whatever the amount is, the number 7 is talking about an infinite number of times we must forgive. Jesus is moving the text from the human to divine,” he said.
In the parable, the king cancels the entire debt of his servant after he begged for mercy but the servant seeing a fellow worker who owes him a lesser debt, chokes him and demands the full sum.
Analysing the sums owed, Archbishop Gordon said the servant owed the king 10,000 talents; one talent was the equivalent of 6,000 denarii and one denarii was one day’s wage. “So, 10,000 denarii is like 60 million day’s wage,” he said. He added that this would be the equivalent of 1,400 years of labour, if it was divided by 356 and the person worked every day. The whole Roman Legion could not have collected so much in taxes. He said the text was illustrating the “drama” of a debt that could not be repaid in 1000 lives and a debt “that could be paid in a human scale in a human time”.
Archbishop Gordon said, “To hear the gospel is to understand what God has done for us, in Christ Jesus Our Lord, is to repay a debt that you and I could never have repaid if we lived 1,000 lives.”
Looking at debts on a “human scale”, he quipped that someone could “mash your corn” and a grudge would be carried for years or persons carry on disagreements their family had with another family years many years before or something happened in church and the individual went home “vex”. Living with anger, resentment, grudges, unforgiveness can “tie up the soul and make it incapable of receiving grace”.
On the other side, mercy is transformational. “When you receive mercy …it reorients your vision and puts you in a place where you start to see things differently from how you saw it before,” he said. Mercy awakens the truth that mercy is more powerful than justice.
In relationships, spouses believed they could change the other and parents believed they could change children by pointing out faults and wrong actions. Archbishop Gordon however, said the deepest transformation occurs when someone received mercy when they deserved justice and condemnation. “Only through love are people transformed.” Mercy can ignite a soul to living and displaying gratitude. Archbishop Gordon said the servant who received “super abundant mercy” was unable to forgive something small and trivial.
He stressed, “The person who cannot see their own need for mercy or the ways God, has shown mercy in small and big things cannot enter into the Christian mystery.” They are so inside themselves and unreachable that not even what God has done for them has made an impact on their soul.
Archbishop Gordon said, “That person is already living in hell because that person is living in that place where love cannot touch or transform that person. They have already put themselves into hell.”
He asked viewers to reflect on times they received mercy, even in times when condemnation and justice was deserved and to consider how this shaped their life. If the experienced did not elicit generosity, gratitude and “bigness of heart”, the soul is contorted.
He directed members of families to outdo each other in mercy, grace and pointing out what is beautiful, good and noble in each other. “That is how a family evolves into the Domestic Church and that is how family evolves so the children become disciples of Christ…who are ready to be generous in our world”.
He closed the homily with another instruction, “Don’t let today end, message, WhatsApp somebody and ask for mercy, ask for forgiveness, ask for grace.”
By Lara Pickford-Gordon